Tag Archives: Homosexuality

Gender Essentialism in Contemporary Orthodox Conversations on Homosexuality

by Bryce E. Rich

This essay is part of a series stemming from the ongoing research project “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which is a joint venture by scholars from Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center and the University of Exeter, funded by the British Council, Friends of the British Council, and the Henry Luce Foundation as part of the British Council’s “Bridging Voices” programme. In August 2019, 55 scholars gathered for an international conference at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. These essays are summaries of presentations given in preparation for the conference and during it. They together reflect the genuine diversity of opinion that was represented at the conference and testify to the need for further reflection and dialogue on these complex and controversial topics.

Male and Female Symbols

When contemporary Orthodox discuss homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and gender more broadly, it’s normally not long before someone quotes texts from the Genesis creation narratives:

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Gn 1:27, 2:24; NRSV)

Removed from their biblical and subsequent historical contexts, these verses become proof texts in support of gender essentialism, the idea that human beings exist in two sexes (male/female), with two genders (masculine/feminine), that result in two gender identities (man/woman). Gender essentialism asserts that these two sexes are complementary and emphasizes procreation (Gn 1:28) as a key element of their relationship. Continue reading

Christian Teaching on Sexual Morality

by Richard Swinburne

This essay is part of a series stemming from the ongoing research project “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which is a joint venture by scholars from Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center and the University of Exeter, funded by the British Council, Friends of the British Council, and the Henry Luce Foundation as part of the British Council’s “Bridging Voices” programme. In August 2019, 55 scholars gathered for an international conference at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. These essays are summaries of presentations given in preparation for the conference and during it. They together reflect the genuine diversity of opinion that was represented at the conference and testify to the need for further reflection and dialogue on these complex and controversial topics.

Moral principles are principles about which actions are morally good or bad, and which among good actions are morally obligatory and which among bad actions are obligatory not to do (=wrong).  A moral obligation is an obligation to someone else, and we wrong that someone if we fail to perform the obligation. To wrong God is to sin. There is a longstanding controversy among Christian philosophers as to whether the fundamental moral principles are necessary truths about the moral natures of different kinds of action, or whether they are made true by the will of God. I recommend the former view, which was the view of, among others, Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus; it’s simply part of the nature of helping those in trouble that it’s a good action, and simply part of the nature of torture that it is wrong to torture someone. God just sees that these things are so and from time to time tells us this. Actions which are good in all possible circumstances are intrinsically good, and actions which are obligatory in all possible circumstances are intrinsically obligatory. It is intrinsically obligatory to keep our just promises (that is, promises which we had the right to make), and it follows that adultery and divorce without the consent of the other spouse are intrinsically wrong.

I now suggest that if we are given a gift by some benefactor on the condition that we use it for a certain purpose or do not use it at all (that is, he commands us not to use it for any other purpose), it is intrinsically obligatory not to use it for any other purpose. God is our creator; and everything we are and have is a gift from God, except those few gifts given to us by others, principally our parents, whose ability to give their gifts is itself a gift from God. Hence it is a derived moral principle that it is wrong to use any God’s gifts for a purpose other than the one for which God gave it. Our sexual organs are a gift from God. Hence it would be sinful to use them in a way forbidden by him. Continue reading

Oikonomia for the Majority—Akriveia for the Minority

by John A. Heropoulos  |  ελληνικά

One of the Orthodox Church’s greatest strengths is the pastoral care used to nurture the faithful.  The authority to offer spiritual care is vested in the bishop and extended to the local community through the parish priest; the spiritual father of a particular flock. Through the sacrament of Holy Confession, pastoral counseling, and living among his people, the local parish priest nurtures the flock entrusted to his care by his bishop.

The philosophical idea that grounds pastoral care are the principles of Oikonomia and Akriveia. 

Based on these principles, it is the spiritual father’s pastoral responsibility to apply the canons, disciplines, and liturgical life of the Church for the spiritual good of his flock. The spiritual father may feel that, after speaking with an individual who is seeking guidance, that Akriveia, such as a period of time for repentance and abstaining from Holy Communion, is the proper “medicine” to help the person in need of spiritual care. At other moments, and possibly for the exact same issue, the spiritual father may choose Oikonomia, such as the encouraging of fasting and the frequent receiving of Holy Communion as the best “medicine.” Continue reading

Dialogue, Church Teaching, and the German Orthodox Bishops’ Letter on Love, Sexuality, and Marriage

by Will Cohen

In a 2015 address at the University of Munich, Metropolitan John Zizioulas observed that “[t]he agenda of Theology is set by history.”  By “history” he meant the concerns and questions particular to a given age, as he underscores in adding, “This was known to the Fathers of the Church who were in constant dialogue with their time.”

If the Church’s theology must accept the questions of history in order to be vital and serve humanity, the same is not true of the conclusions history may hurriedly reach. Christians have sometimes not readily enough accepted history’s questions and sometimes too readily accepted its answers. Of relevance to this dynamic is how Church teaching is understood—specifically, in relation to the place of dialogue in the Church.

When in the flow of history an issue erupts, becoming a real question for human beings, the fact that there is already Church teaching on it—if that is the case—can be taken to mean it is unnecessary and even impermissible for Christians to take it seriously as a question. Instead of rediscovering and deepening the teaching through the question, those who appeal to the teaching in order to beat the question back cannot really speak to the question the present age has posed, because they have not entered into it in a sufficiently real and searching way.  Continue Reading…